By Carol Vaughn —
Accomack County supervisors heard from residents at a town hall meeting held Thursday, May 5, to receive comment about proposed uses of the second installment of federal funds coming to Accomack County as result of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The second installment, expected to come to the county as early as this week, is around $3.1 million, similar to the amount received a year ago in the first round.
The Board of Supervisors will decide at a future meeting on uses of the money.
According to the U. S. Treasury, the money may not be used to replenish rainy day funds, for debt service payments, to offset a reduction in tax revenue resulting from changes in law required by the ARPA, or to undermine mitigation practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
At the April 20 board meeting, Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason recommended the board consider three priority projects for the ARPA funds: covering the cost of Accomack’s share of the regional public safety communications system not covered by a recently awarded federal grant (approximately $892,000-$1.56 million); conducting a sewer collection system feasibility study for northern Accomack County (an estimated $50,000); and an additional $500,000 for broadband expansion on the seaside.
Shelley Strain, executive director of the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence, asked the board to include the organization in their plans for the ARPA money.
ESCADV is asking for $250,000 from the ARPA funds.
ESCADV in August 2021 purchased the former G.F. Horne Assisted Living campus in Onancock, which after extensive renovations will allow ESCADV to provide expanded services.
The plan is to open a larger emergency shelter in one building on the campus as early as July 1.
The total cost to renovate all three buildings is around $1.8 million, Strain said.
“We have raised about half of that between donations and some grant funds, as well as the sale of our office” and the former shelter, she said.
ESCADV has applied for additional grants and is asking towns in both Shore counties to contribute to the expansion cost.
“This property is going to allow us to have families each have independent space,” Strain said.
Additionally, plans for a second building, include office space and also an area for nurses to perform examinations of sexual assault victims, rather than victims having to go the hospital.
“Just last month, we had 27 hotline calls. Nine of them were for sexual assault,” Strain said, adding, “…So the calls are coming in. The services are needed.”
Since July 1, ESCADV fielded 194 hotline calls, of which 104 were related to domestic violence and 42 were about sexual assault — up from 10 calls about sexual assault in 2017, which Strain attributed to improved outreach.
ESCADV had on average 12 people in emergency shelter on any given night during the period.
“There were 20 days where we had 38 people sheltered,” Strain said.
John Fiege, who chairs ESCADV’s capital campaign, also asked the board to consider funding for the expansion project.
“You know the need,” he said.
The Rev. Rick Willis asked the board to consider setting aside funding to provide broadband access to migrant agricultural workers during the time they live on the Shore.
“Our project is to establish mobile wifi hotspots near some of the camps,” he said, speaking as a member of the Agricultural Workers Advocacy Coaltion (AWAC) and on behalf of several other organizations that advocate for migrant workers.
“The camps are often in rural or remote areas of the county, which makes access to reliable broadband difficult,” he said.
AWAC in March made a presentation to the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority, asking the authority to consider establishing mobile hotspots near migrant camps.
ESVBA is working on a cost estimate to provide hotspots to several camps in Accomack County, Willis said, noting there are 12 migrant labor camps on the Shore, equally divided between the two counties. Eight are in “very low signal areas,” he said.
Accomack has camps in Mappsville, Horntown, and Painter.
“The project could serve over 1,400 workers who have an economic impact on the local economy of approximately $10 million,” Willis said, adding, “…Accomack County has a wonderful opportunity to set a standard by providing these essential workers with internet access.”
Willis asked people who attended the town hall in support of the request to stand.
Cecilia Hernandez translated from Spanish to English for another speaker, migrant worker Lionel Blas, who works and lives on the Shore from March to October.
He said more than 1,000 migrant workers work on the Shore each year and many who live in the Painter camp on Route 13 do not have internet access to enable them to communicate with their families and he said internet also is important to arrange medical appointments, among other needs.
Sue Mastyl also asked the board to consider funding additional broadband expansion, including assistance with installation costs for remote residences.
Matt Clay, Eastern Shore Rural Health chief executive officer, asked the board to consider funding assistance for ESRH’s dental program.
“There is a significant deficit here on the Shore with what is needed,” Clay said.
One proposal for funding is to assist the student dental health program in public schools.
“We have seen over 100,000 patient visits since we opened those doors,” Clay said.
Two school dental facilities, at Pungoteague and Metompkin Elementary Schools, are more than 20 years old. Replacing them would cost around $266,000 each.
Alternatively, there is a need of around 115,000 annual dental visits on the Shore, of which ESRH is meeting around 45,000. “So there is a significant need there. We would like to expand our dental program into our Onley Community Health Center,” Clay said.
A roughly 3,500 square foot facility there would enable around 18,000 annual visits. That facility’s cost is “in the millions. We wouldn’t look for all of that but if we could find a partner on that we would definitely look to do something like that,” Clay said.
The costs do not include operational costs or equipment.
Supervisor Robert Crockett later in the meeting said the Shore recently lost three dentists.
“I have talked with people who don’t have dentists,” he said, urging the board to consider ESRH’s request.
Supervisor Donald Hart spoke in favor of assisting with dental facilities and funding additional broadband expansion, in particular for remote areas and migrant camps.
Hart also spoke in favor of ESCADV’s request.
Supervisors Ron Wolff, Reneta Major, and Harrison Phillips agreed.
Major said she was “just a little bit disappointed” that more people did not attend the town hall to share their thoughts on what to do with the federal money.
Cigarette Tax Public Hearings
J.R. Pikulski, owner of Dixieland store in New Church, spoke at a public hearing on the proposed cigarette tax.
He told the board the annual cigarette sales numbers the county received are accurate.
“According to those numbers, it’s a little less than 800,000 cartons, so I want you to do the math. It’s going to far exceed the expectations of revenue increase that the board is thinking of,” he said.
The board of supervisors voted to impose a tax of 10 cents per pack on cigarettes, down from the original proposal of 40 cents per pack. The proposed tax rate was revised downward after sales volume information was received from cigarette distributors.
The proposed county fiscal year 2023 budget relies on collecting $422,000 in tax revenues from enactment of the cigarette tax.
The ordinance takes effect July 1.
Additionally, the board voted to join the Chesapeake Bay Region Cigarette Tax Board, which will administer the tax for a fee.
Dredging Funds Transferred
The board voted to transfer up to $201,160 of unused Virginia Port Authority waterways maintenance funds to Northampton County for the Kings Creek dredging project, after a survey found no need for dredging in state waters in Wachapreague and Quinby channels.
Accomac School Structural Study Approved
Leaders of the board of supervisors and the Accomack County School Board met April 25 to discuss the former Accomac Primary School. By consensus, a recommendation was made to the board of supervisors and the school board to pursue additional in-depth studies of the building, including a structural analysis and hazardous materials analysis, with the cost to be split evenly between the school board and the county, before a decision is made about future use of the property, either to renovate the existing building for use as a school administration building or to tear it down and build a new building.
The board of supervisors approved entering into an agreement with the school board to have the studies done.